I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but here it is blazing hot and way too humid. Thank heavens for air-conditioning. Most of our ancestors did not have it as good as we do in that regard. The earliest electric fans appeared in the early 1880s, but they weren’t manufactured for residential use until around 1910. And, of course, you can imagine that while fans offered relief, they were no substitute for the air-conditioners we enjoy today.
So, apart from serving as a fashion accessory, the handheld fan must have saved the day for many ladies, especially when you consider the fashions of the time. (For a history of the fan, visit Victoriana dot com.)
Wooden autographed fans gained popularity in the 1860s, and here is one that belonged to my great grandmother, Wealthy Ann Angus. The fan dates back to 1870-1871, before she married my great grandfather William Woodruff in 1872. It was common for the signers of these fans to leave some sort of verse or message. A couple of signatures appear to have been collected at an Armenian social club. Others, appear to have been collected while visiting Utica, NY, and traveling on some sort of pleasure cruise. A few are clearly from her home town of Elizabeth.
Wealthy wrote her address on the fan: 176 Elizabeth Avenue in Elizabeth, NJ. Somewhat puzzling is the fact that on the opposite side of the fan is written “The owner of this fan Jennie Angus, Elizabeth”. I have no idea who this Jennie Angus was. Wealthy’s dad James Angus had a cousin named Jane (b. 1805), but I don’t know if there is any connection there. Wealthy named her first daughter Jennie. Any thoughts, anyone? Well, I’ll leave you to enjoy the images of the fan. Stay cool, all!
Antique Fan Collectors Association – Museum
The day after I finished the post on the 1870 letter from Francis Woodruff to his son, William, I found four Godey reprints dating back to 1970 that probably had not seen the light of day since my mom purchased them through the mail from McCall’s that year; they were still in their original cardboard mailing envelope.
The Woodruffs were well-to-do farmers in Elizabeth, NJ, but whether daughters Emma and Phebe would have been adorned to such an extent at that time, I have no idea. But, perhaps, like many people today who have subscriptions to Vogue and other fashion magazines, the Woodruff girls enjoyed leafing through whatever Godey’s magazines may have been in their possession.
In any event, this is what we ladies may have been wrapped up in 143 years ago had we been members of the upper middle-class—one thing’s for sure, the weight of those outfits would have made them great calorie-burners! (For more on Godey and his magazine, click here. For tips on how to sit in an 1870s Victorian bustle dress or create a Victorian dress of your own (!), visit Historical Sewing.)